It’s hard to let go

Last post I wrote about the banjo I hadn’t used but couldn’t give up. It sits back in its original place at home, propped up against the wall, still collecting dust, but still bringing a little smile to my face for whatever crazy reason.

But now I’m having a hard time giving up even more stuff I don’t use – haven’t used.

I thought I had it all together in the getting-rid-of-stuff department. Thought I was the expert in letting go, the expert in simple living, the one with all the answers about getting rid of what you don’t love and use.

Hmm. I’m having a hard time.

After my banjo, it was my grandma’s old amber glass cocktail set. I’d been storing a few boxes of these lovely things for years and never used them. But I kept them, thinking one day I’d bring them out and have a nice dinner party and think of my beloved grandma.

That day never came. Loads and loads of dinner parties happened and the amber glass cocktail glasses never came out of their boxes. So I asked my siblings if they wanted them. My brother jumped at the chance.

Was I giving up my memories? 

As soon as he said yes I started having misgivings. Why hadn’t I used the glasses? They might even be valuable. How am I going to feel when I go to my brother’s house and they’re using the cocktail glasses? They hold the sweetest memories of holiday dinners at my grandma’s house where she’d set the table with her lace tablecloth and then set one of those glasses for every place – the light bouncing off of them in such a magical way. I was giving that up – letting it all go. What was I thinking?

I felt the same sadness I felt when the clerk at the used music store handed me money for my banjo. Not ready to give up just yet on this memory.

But I delivered the amber cocktail glasses to my brother anyway, even with a lump in my throat.

The Buddhist lesson applies to letting go of stuff

Image of Buddha Hand in Wat Pho
Buddha hand in Wat Pho

I think this is the lesson on simplicity here. It’s a Buddhist lesson that I’m applying to letting go of stuff you have feelings for but don’t use. The lesson is sitting with discomfort.

What this means is that it’s OK to feel discomfort or any other wide range of human emotions – perfectly OK, perfectly normal. We don’t always get to feel happy, try as we might. But we also don’t have to run from our uncomfortable feelings, such as by hanging on to stuff we really ought to let go of, just because we can’t face our uncomfortable feelings of letting go. Pretty soon we’re buried in stuff.

I don’t like being buried in stuff I don’t use, for sure. I like feeling free and light and I can’t feel that way if I’m buried in too much stuff. So I have to take a huge breath – maybe a lot of them – and let go of certain things and then sit with my discomfort.

I decided to do this with my grandma’s cocktail glasses. I knew I was not going to use them. I knew if I pulled them out of their boxes and put them on the table for dinner guests and poured wine into them – you couldn’t even tell what your wine looked like through the amber. I knew I like clear glasses so people know what’s in them. I knew all of these things. Knew I didn’t like having boxes all over the garage. Knew I don’t like feeling buried in stuff.

But still, I didn’t want to deliver the glasses to my brother because I didn’t want to let go of the memories. I didn’t like the lump in my throat, didn’t like the feeling of sadness washing over me, didn’t like all the second guessing I was doing (shoulda kept them, shoulda used them…).

Sometimes simplicity is not easy

Girl and on a bike in the countryside in sunrise time
Simplicity is freeing

I kept breathing and staying with my uncomfortable feelings and gave the boxes to my brother.

But it was and is hard. Sometimes living a simplified life is not easy. Sometimes – a lot of times – living a mindful life is not easy. Shopping and accumulating and living a distracted life is the easiest, for sure. Sitting with uncomfortable emotions from letting go is not.

Despite this, I had to make a choice. Was I going to allow stuff to overwhelm me, or was I going to be courageous and feel my feelings? I made the choice.

I kept my banjo because there’s still a chance I’ll use it. I gave myself six months. I’ve kept other, little things I don’t use, but that have sweet memories, and that don’t take up much space. Such as a teeny old clock in a fading and torn red leather case that was also my grandma’s. It’s only maybe 4” x 2” – very small. The clock sits on a shelf and when I walk by I look at it and my heart gets warmer. It takes up very little space, so the trade-off is just fine.

When my dad died several years ago and we cleaned out his stuff – the only thing I wanted was a hard plastic name tag that was his when he used to fly for an airline. He kept that on his luggage. I put it on my key chain and it takes up hardly any room. I didn’t want anything else. That name tag serves my yearning for tangible memories just fine.

I can’t tell you exactly how you should discern what to keep and what to let go of. It’s easy to keep the stuff you use all of the time. It’s easy to find homes for stuff you have no attachment to. But dang – it’s hard to let go of stuff that’s deeply infused with memories. For some reason we think we need these things in order to remember the feelings we had for the person, but that’s really not true. Our memories stay with us anyway.

And it’s hard to let go of stuff that brings us a kind of hope for a certain future, like my banjo. “Someday I’ll hang out on the front porch playing this thing. Someday I’ll join a bluegrass band….someday.”

Maybe you could choose one thing to let go of, and try being mindful and sitting with your uncomfortable emotions anyway. It could be a little test for you. See how you do, and see how your emotions morph and change like the wind. See how you can feel sad right now, and then see how you can feel something else and something else. We’re always changing.

I do know one thing. I am in love with feeling light, and that means not keeping loads of stuff I’m not using, and it also means feeling my feelings and just “be-ing” with them. So the next time I struggle with letting go of something, I may wind up keeping it, but I also will be mindful. I’ll let my feelings be. I won’t keep stuff simply because I’m afraid of feeling wistful or even sad. I’ll let go and I’ll know that my emotions will change, just like the wind.

7 comments

  1. I needed to read the article about sitting with discomfort. I just let go of all of the sympathy cards from my husbands funeral…it’s been 4 years and I needed to move on. I sat with the box and read a few of them, this time I didn’t cry. I still see most of these people. I love them even more now than in the past. It was time to claim my space back and look to the future ahead of me.

  2. Great article! In the beginning I felt a wailing rising up inside me: NOT THE BANJO!!!!!!!!!!!

    Glad to find out as I read on that the banjo has survived (so far :-)). In a way, the fact that most items in my boxes from Austria (the last items I cleared out before selling my family home) arrived in shards, saved me from accumulating more stuff. There was a small recognition of “I don’t really need this” underneath the shock and sorrow.

    Now, what am I going to do with my guitar? Join your band?

    XOXOXOX

  3. Thank you for the reminder to go slowly and give one’s self space to let go. I’m looking at downsizing, moving from a huge house as 3 out of 4 kids have moved out. I will begin to practice sitting with the discomfort, of letting go.

    1. Thanks for the valuable insights. We leaving the home we’ve occupied for nearly 30 years and downsizing significantly. It’s going to be a struggle deciding what to keep, but keeping your ideas in mind, I’ll get through it.

  4. What a great article! I’ve been thinking a lot about Buddhism and letting things go (cue 3 hour non-stop ‘stuck in head’ loop of Frozen’s “let it go”) and this dilemma makes a lot of sense. I think it’s part of the grieving process. To move forward we have to say goodbye to whats gone before and you’re right that’s dead easy with a lot of stuff – It’s the inbetween stuff that gets you. I try and think that someone else can have memories with my stuff now – as I am sure your brother will. Well done keeping the Banjo though I think it’s unfinished business and we’re gonna hear a tune coming from that real soon!

  5. So I am thinking of Marie Kono’s “Sparks Joy” process. What if all the memory stuff sparks joy?
    And then there is family kick back. When I got the blue willow set, I pared it down to 8 place settings and the serving pieces I wanted. My brother took a couple of serving pieces. I actually had to go to the auction house and pull back some of the excess for a niece who had been asked earlier and not responded. I got a lot of flack for not keeping every piece of the set even though no one stepped forward to take the left overs. Really?
    There is the microphone from the garage band in 1968….The guitar has been gathering dust. If I lived closer, I would say lets start a band…

  6. What a freeing article. Always wanting to be happy to do something is so exhausting because living is not just about being happy but about having joy, taking lifegiving steps forward even when still afraid or uncomfortable. I have not been able to part with my Destiny magazines accumulated over the years, thinking I will need to refer to the powerful articles written in the future. Learning from your article that it is okay for me to part with them even while having uncomfortable feelings about it is liberating!!! Otherwise I might have to still wait for a lifetime if I am waiting to feel happy about it ,wow what a revelation! Especially because I am donating my books/magazines to this lovely bookshop in capetown that raise funds for the volunteer staff -caregivers, of the abandoned/orphaned/ abused.

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